If there was one thing Water For Elephants lacked it was a Sad Clown. The Last Circus suffers no such deficiency, following as it does not only the saddest but the most downright strange clown to grace cinemas this year.

In an opening prelude, our budding basket-case to be watches helplessly as his father (Santiago Segura) – a Stupid Clown replete with sprinkler eyes and a woman’s wig – is recruited by a forceful Republican militia. It is 1937, and Spain is in the throes of Civil War. Still in costume, he is given a machete and dragged into battle with National soldiers, where he swiftly lays waste to anyone unfortunate enough to stand in his way.

Flash forward  36 years to the tail-end of the Franco regime and Javier (Carlos Areces) is looking to follow his late-father into the circus business. Having seen too much tragedy in his life, however, Javier is only equipped to play the role of Sad Clown. Finding work at a local circus, Javier finds himself at the mercy of the resident Happy Clown – a vicious and abusive character called Sergio (Antonio de la Torre) – and in love with Sergio’s gorgeous acrobat wife, Natalia (Carolina Bang).

As this love-triangle grows ever more twisted and unstable, and the events of 1937 threaten to resurface, Javier’s mind begins to unravel as his competition for Natalia’s heart escalates to truly alarming and desperate proportions, culminating in a truly breathtaking final stand atop a giant cross towering over Madrid’s Valley of the Fallen.

From the opening massacre it’s clear that The Last Circus isn’t your average clown movie – if such a thing even exists. Gore-soaked and deliriously absurd, the film is both deeply unsettling and ruthlessly hilarious. Wittily written and lovingly lensed, this delightfully subversive Frankenfilm is truly operatic in scale, as its tragicomic plot throws everything and the kitchen sink at our characters just looking to survive their tenure at the circus. When the inner delusions and psychological depravity give way to horrific disfigurement and masochistic deformity (one character takes an iron to his face), the result is so grotesque that it can’t help but mesmerise.

Shocking, irreverent and absolutely perplexing, The Last Circus is a true cinematic spectacle, a stunning enigma to be cracked. If there is one problem with writer-director Alex de la Iglesia’s latest creation it is that Areces’ Javier is too unhinged to be truly sympathetic, the absurdest excellence of the opening act slowly petering out as the characters spiral the psychological drain. Despite its relatively cold emotional centre, however, this is one circus you’ll want to catch while it lasts.